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October 2014 Archives

Co-Morbid Impairments (Combination of Two or More disabling Conditions)

A recent ruling won by DeBofsky, Sherman & Casciari, Curtis v. Hartford Life & Acc.Ins.Co., 2014 WL 485233 (N.D.Ill. August 20, 2014) illustrates the importance of considering the combined impact of more than one medical condition in determining disability.  Cindy Curtis, a former operating room nurse at Lurie Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago, became disabled in 2007 due to musculoskeletal impairments of the back, knees and shoulders suffered in car accidents, along with fibromyalgia and myofascial pain throughout her body.  She filed a claim for long-term disability insurance with Hartford, which provided group disability coverage through her employer.  Hartford approved the claim and paid benefits under the own occupation definition of disability that covered the first 24 months of payments. However, two years later Hartford discontinued Curtis's benefits, finding that she did not meet the "any occupation" definition of disability that became effective on that date.  In the key portion of the ruling, the court emphasized that "even if none of her impairments in isolation necessarily compel a finding in [Curtis's] favor," the co-morbidity of her impairments had to be considered in combination in assessing disability. 

"No good deed goes unpunished"

A recent DeBofsky, Sherman & Casciari victory, Cheney v. Standard Ins.Co., 2014 WL 4259861 (N.D.Ill. August 28, 2014) illustrates the concept of being disabled while still working and thus qualifying for disability insurance benefits.  The plaintiff, Carole Cheney, was a non-equity partner at the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis, LLP who specialized in appellate and commercial litigation.  After struggling with neck and back pain for years and receiving workplace ergonomic accommodations that ultimately failed to enable her to keep working in the office, Cheney began working from home most days beginning in 2003.  Ultimately, though, she had to stop working after December 19, 2011; and she took an approved leave of absence from her law firm beginning January 3, 2012 to pursue treatment for her back pain, ultimately undergoing major spine surgery a few months later.  Although Cheney's disability insurer, Standard Insurance Company, maintained that Cheney's coverage ended when she ceased working, the court ruled otherwise based on the policy language, which continues coverage after the cessation of active work during a leave of absence.  Thus, Cheney qualified for benefits even though her date of disability  did not commence until shortly before she underwent surgery.

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